Why "Protecting" Readers Hurts Teens

A sunset landscape obscured by black clouds.
Amazing sky dark black sky by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Last week, an author blogger wrote on the subject of cursing in YA. Personally, it's a topic that there's little to say about--unless you take a strong stand in it.

This author blogger did.

As a teen, her stance rubbed me the wrong way.

I shared this post with a few members on a writer's forum. They pretty much agreed that it was condensing.

Even today, after a cool-off, I have a few things to say on the wider subject: whatever to protect readers or not.

A Sweeping Offense

Here's the first out of two parts that I essentially disagree with:

In my humble opinion, cussing is a cheap way out of finding a creative way to express oneself. And it cheapens the book as well.

The implication here is that any novel that uses profanity is less of a book

Even if she's applying this only to YA, this carries elitist attitudes toward many great books. For example, The Book Thief. It uses language like the s-word, yet it's considered one of the best pieces of YA literature in the last few years.

I do agree that books like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter don't have to have cursing. Sometimes, a novel doesn't need it, realism be screwed. I respect this.

On the other hand, I disagree that cussing is, by default, a cheap way of expressing oneself. Yes, excess use of it dilutes its spunk, but the right precision, or just the right circumstances, can enhance the story. Words have power, including profanity. 

Besides, remember what Mrs. Weasley said in The Deathly Hollows? Does that one moment make the book worst? No, instead, it serves as a moment of kick...butt.

Also, there's the whole realism thing. And tone. 


Here's the second paragraph that I disagree with.

The problem with today’s young adult books is a reader doesn’t know what they’re getting into until they’re knee deep in the mire. This goes for swearing, sex and violence. Ever try to stop a teen from ‘enjoying’ something which contains sex, foul language or gore? Of course an allowance is made for the genre bridging the innocence of middle grade books and adult-level reading. But how much is too much? How do we protect the sanctity of innocence until a young adult is ready to become an adult if what they’re reading reveals all?
As an author of Picture Books up through Young Adult, I feel the need to protect my young readers from what they’re seeing in movies and television, hearing in the lyrics of their music and experiencing while playing their video games. Teens aren’t allowed to remain innocent and naiive anymore…and I think it’s a shame on our society.

The implication here is that teens need to be "protected" from mature subject matters.

Personally, this "sanctity of innocence" concept is fishy. It's way too late for me. This is the Age of the Internet, where I know exactly what "S&M" means. On the other hand, the aunt that gave me that Rihanna album that has a song of the same name is being all nervous.

Sheltering teens is not what we want. We want knowledge. We want maturity, not to be contained in a world of oversanitized, squeaky clean stories. To the point that we develop hives when we stumble onto the real world without a chance to test the waters behind the adult's backs.

Thing is, we are too old to want to be innocent and naive.

The Real Problem

And as one fellow writer at the forum said, "cursing is a red herring". It's a scrap goat to even worse problems.

Thing is, we need YA that have swearing, sex and violence. But not for the sake of it. Having edginess for the sake of it is the kind of problem this blogger is concerned about. Mindless stuff. Grimy, pointless slog.

On the other hand, the same gateway to empty entertainment is also the road to some of the most powerful themes out there. Sometimes, you have to be dark. Would The List have the same impact if we stripped all the drinking and anorexia and sex and other harsh aspects of life?

Of course not! The categorizing of girls into "prettiest" and "ugliest" is a harsh topic that require harsh content to convey this in the most natural way possible. Trying to blast the germs away would only expose it as 

Although few like a preacher in their fiction, there are many doors that adults prefer us to not open. That only makes us want to open them more. Since we're going to break through anyway, you might as well hand us the key and meet as at the end of the road.

Get that metaphor?


In the end, I respect the kind of books she writes. We need those kinds of books. There are some teens that want a taste of innocence and nativity, or just like a great story without mature content.

However, cursing and other such stuff is here to stay. And since it's here to stay, the solution isn't to obliviate it, but to embrace it, shine a light through it, and make the most out of it.

Teens will get kicked into the mire. At least let them swim to the other side.

YOUR TURN:What's your opinion on cursing, violence, sex, drugs, and so on? How do you think they should be handled?

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